Big Question: How bad is the defense?

Mikael Silvestre, Tim CahillThe smell of smoke bombs from the opening game of the Portland Timbers 2013 season has dissipated, which gives us an opportunity to introduce you to a new, EXCLU$IVE 5mTKO blogg feature called the Big Question. Each and every Tuesday we will ask and answer a burning question that has arisen from the previous weekend’s game. Yes, your existence has suddenly changed for the better.

This week’s question is one that you have probably had go through your mind a few dozen times since Sunday’s game against the New York Red Bulls. Is our defense always going to give up three goals or was this just an aberration that can be chalked up to Mikael Silvestre’s rhumlagged body?

Before we take a stab at answering this question, take a look at the headlines from around the world regarding Silvestre’s debut with the Timbers. I imagine Dylan Tucker-Gangnes would have garnered similar attention, right?

You could have failed your high school foreign language requirement and still get the gist of those headlines: Silvestre, bad. Ha, Ha. Ha. People love to kick a guy when he is down, especially a guy who was once at the highest level of the sport. Just ask Ian Hogg.

Meanwhile, the party line from the Timbers is that Silvestre will be just fine. Give him time to acclimate to his teammates, his new city, and MLS. Don’t pay attention to the first 45 minutes against New York. Focus on those final 45 minutes. Focus on the clean sheet. Focus on the comeback.

There is truth in this, of course. Silvestre should get a pass, but was he the sole source of concern on Sunday? Is he the sole source of concern moving forward?

Throughout preseason and heading into the opening game, I had a lot of questions about the backline. With three new faces and a guy who barely saw first team action last season playing in front of an aging goalkeeper who winces every time he bends at the waist and who doesn’t like to come off his line, you would be hard pressed to find many people predicting that the Timbers would be a team led by its lock down defense, especially early on while they will still getting to know one another.

After Sunday’s performance, these concerns haven’t gone away. It is clear that Caleb Porter’s system is one in which he wants the back four to keep a high line, and in the case of the outside backs he wants them to push forward into the attack every opportunity they get. This leads to some fun, exciting play when Harrington and Miller knock it around with some skilled midfielders, but as we saw against San Jose, AIK, and New York, those guys are going to be caught up field from time to time. This leaves the center backs exposed and if they are an iota out of position or if they misjudge the ball they will leave Ricketts alone to deal with the danger. We can certainly hope that a fitter Silvestre who has had time to develop a partnership with Andrew Jean-Baptiste will be better equipped to handle the pressure, but the reality is that this team will likely continue to be vulnerable to counter attacks. That is the trade off for pushing high.

As for the outside backs, neither was really exposed on Sunday, but we need more time to see how they perform when the other team is taking the attack to the Timbers. We know that they have been brought in because they can get forward, but how are they at shutting down their counterparts (other than Kosuke Kimura) on the wing?

Silvestre was the big issue on Sunday, but my gut tells me he isn’t the only reason this team has the potential to give up a fair number of goals in 2013. And let’s not even ponder a world where Miller and Harrington are injured.

Your thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Big Question: How bad is the defense?

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